Tefi Pessoa on Her Latinidad: "If I'm Not Latina, I Don't Know Who I Am"
Latinas come in all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, but for the chronically online Gen Z crowd among us, there is one woman who unites us all: Estefanía Vanegas Pessoa, aka Tefi.
The Colombian-Brazilian creator known for her pop culture breakdowns, relationship advice, and hilariously relatable content has created a safe haven for young Latinos on TikTok that skyrocketed her to fame, but her journey hasn't been without obstacles.
During a conversation with People Chica about her self-published essay, I Can Be Both, Pessoa revealed many on the app have questioned her Latinidad.
She shares, "People started stitching videos of me talking about [my roots], saying 'she's more Spaniard than anything,' or, 'if anything, she looks Greek.' Why does it have to be so complicated?"
When leaving the 305 (aka Miami), Pessoa felt a disconnect with non-Latino Americans, but from many online, she also shared she was made to feel not Latina enough—a feeling many other second-generation Latinos can relate to.
In an exclusive interview with People Chica, the content creator delves into her feelings on this complex relationship with Latinidad, plus a look into how her career got started, and her thoughts on one of the most titillating celeb breakups of the year.
What does being Latina mean to you?
When I'm walking down the street, and I see Latinos, I feel at home. The majority of people that have loved me in my life have been Latino. The majority of friendships that I've seen in my life are between Latino women. It's insightful, it's passionate.
Being Latina means reading human nature. Being Latina is knowing when to make a joke and sometimes when to turn on the music. Sometimes, being Latina means knowing how to adapt to the world in front of you.
I've seen so many Latinos enter rooms where they're the only Latino and they know how to make everybody feel excited to be there. My mom always said that [Latinos] are the joy of the world.
How has your Latinidad impacted your relationship with beauty?
[As] I was growing up, the biggest accessory became your body. It wasn't the low-rise jeans, it was the hip bone. I didn't know how to be the Ashley Olsen, Mary Kate Olsen, Paris Hilton "skinny girl," but also the Latina, the "curvy girl."
At home, I never heard my mom talk about her body, but I also grew up in Miami, where people are hyper-obsessed with bodies. But [beauty standards] never came from my family, which I did not realize until I was older. If anything, my mom would say, "Those pants are not flattering to you," but it was never body shape.
When it came to Botox, my mom always was super anti and she is the first one to tell me if I look like a payasa, especially when I got my lips done. I try to tell it to young girls all the time, I started [using Botox] at 30. Your injector needs to be trustworthy and help make sure you still look like yourself.
In the essay, you touch on how dating can be hard for Latinas when we're stereotyped as "spicy." How can we confront this fetishizing?
There are certain things I can call my friends, like "spicy," that I feel like we can laugh about. But if somebody else were to call me "spicy," and the majority of the time that's in dating scenarios, but also at the workplace, there's no reason you should be calling me that.
What it does is it deters you from being outspoken. It's a very clever way to shut us up, and it makes you become meeker and quieter. However, when it comes [to women saying it about themselves], a part of me thinks, who am I to tell a woman not to call herself sexy? The problem is [when] people who are not part of Hispanic culture [are] saying it.
When people ask me what to do about it, I say I have no idea, because in the past I handled it poorly. When you're 23, you're in a new city, and you're meeting people, you think he's showing you off. But you have to shut it down.
You're beloved for your celebrity series on TikTok, but you're also known for giving great relationship advice. If your fellow colombiana Shakira was one of your real-life besties, what advice would you give her?
I would say she has to decide the narrative, but I'm gonna stick with her. She has many different options.
But she said what she needed to say and I think she's very, very clever—she's such an Aquarius—so I'd say, "You said what you said, and you were very clever about it and the whole world is laughing at him. Your next move is either cruel or mature and you have to decide."
If you want to be mature, you have to be what I call "Angry Chic" because you have to know that your kids are going to read about that one day, and that's still their dad.